According to a Dec. 8, 2001, CIA report that was sent to the White House Situation Room, the CIA had already made a preliminary determination that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta had not in fact traveled to Prague in the Czech Republic in May 2000 to rendezvous with a senior official of the Iraqi Intelligence Service. Atta was an Egyptian national who piloted American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center. That he would have met with the IIS was significant for intelligence officials looking for a connection between al-Qaida and Iraq.
But just one day after the report was sent to the White House, Vice President Dick Cheney claimed on NBC's "Meet the Press" that it had been "pretty confirmed" that Atta had gone to Prague several months before the attack. According to the 9/11 Commission report, it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity after a Pakistani with a similar name tried to get into the Czech Republic but was turned away. The document was the basis for a footnote in chapter seven of the 9/11 report.
Even though the information about Atta meeting with the ISS was later disproved, it still resonated with those bent on going to war with Iraq.
The hundreds of pages of CIA files released Tuesday include a chronology of the agency's efforts to catch bin Laden.
A March 2004 CIA report entitled, "The Rise of UBL and al-Qaida and the Intelligence Community Response," discusses the likelihood of the CIA capturing bin Laden in the late 1990s using Afghans to do the job. Such a plan didn't seem viable.
The CIA estimated that none of the available Afghan units had more than a 10 percent chance of capturing the heavily guarded bin Laden. Another option was using Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance, who was friendly with the CIA and fighting the Taliban. "Even if he agreed to do so, his chances of success against the Taliban were judged to be less than 5 percent," the report said. Al-Qaida operatives killed Massoud on Sept. 9, 2001.
President Bill Clinton was criticized for not doing more to catch bin Laden. But the documents show it wouldn't have been an easy task, though some at the CIA were still hopeful they could get him.
"The odds of success are iffy," Michael Scheuer, who ran the CIA's bin Laden unit, said in a 1998 secret memo that was among the declassified documents released Tuesday. "And the thing could blow up at any point along the way."
It would take the U.S. government another 13 years to catch and kill bin Laden.
Associated Press writers Kimberly Dozier and Stephen Braun contributed to this report. The National Archive documents can be found at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB381/
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